Duplicating the actions of consumer groups in several other states, six Florida residents have filed suit in federal court to overturn state laws that prohibit adults from buying wine from out-of-state sources.
In their civil-rights complaint, the six wine collectors from Sarasota County argue that Florida is violating their constitutional right to engage in interstate commerce by preventing them from ordering fine and rare wines that are not available from in-state retailers.
In a recent case based on a similar argument, a federal judge ruled in favor of 13 Indiana consumers, determining that their state's ban on interstate direct shipments of alcoholic beverages is unconstitutional. However, the Indiana attorney general's office is appealing the decision. Similar cases are pending in Texas and Virginia.
The Florida suit was filed late last year in U.S. District Court in Tampa by two of the lawyers involved in the Indiana case -- Robert Epstein, of the Indianapolis law firm Epstein & Frisch, and James Tanford, a professor at Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington -- and attorney James Guarneri of Guarneri & Martinez in Brandon, Fla.
Florida currently bans out-of-state wineries and retailers from shipping alcoholic beverages directly to residents' homes; it is also illegal for package carriers to make such deliveries. Violators are subject to felony prosecution and are liable for damages up to three times the market value of the merchandise they brought into Florida.
However, licensed in-state vendors can deliver alcoholic beverages to Florida homes. The suit argues that this discrepancy in the regulations "discriminates against interstate sales and delivery and provides a direct economic advantage to in-state businesses," thereby violating the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which promotes free trade among the states.
Florida enacted its felony provisions in 1997, becoming one of several states to do so in the last few years. Such bans have been supported by many wine and spirits wholesalers, who view the growing trade in direct wine sales via the Internet, phone and mail as a threat to their business.
Read more news on direct-shipping court cases:
For a complete overview of the direct shipping issue, read our feature package The Wine Wars.